From #MinimumGrid to #BuildTheGrid
Since the municipal election in 2014, Cycle Toronto has called for a grid of protected bike lanes across our city. In the time since then, we have had mixed success at City Council. We’ve made hard-won gains including protected bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide, the approval of a 10-Year Cycling Network Plan, and permanent bike lanes on Bloor, but progress has been frustratingly slow.
Torontonians headed back to the polls this year, and at Cycle Toronto we were presented with a fresh opportunity to renew our call for a city-wide grid of safe streets.
A Smaller City Council
When Toronto’s 2018 municipal election campaign kicked off in May, we were ready to get to work. We had partnered with the David Suzuki Foundation to conduct new public opinion polling that would help inform our work, Advocacy Summits were scheduled in each of Toronto’s four Community Council Districts, two of Cycle Toronto’s Ward Advocacy Groups were ready to host local all-candidates debates, and Activist Trainings for each district were in the works. From North York to Etobicoke to Scarborough we were hearing a familiar refrain: It’s great that Toronto has a 10-Year Cycling Network Plan in place, but the City needs to pick up the pace in a big way.
Meanwhile, the city was buzzing about the possibility of electing new faces to City Council. But big changes were ahead.
Doug Ford became Premier of Ontario in June. Then in a surprise move in July, he slashed the size of Toronto’s City Council down to 25 ward councillors.
Under the new 25 ward system, City Council would become a smaller replica of its pre-2018 makeup, with many council seats becoming hotly contested as two neighbouring incumbents rivaled for the job.
However the result shook out, we knew our new councillors would have their work cut out for them, and that it would be more important than ever to engage and work closely with them to build the grid of bike lanes needed across our city.
We Are Stronger Together
Taking a page from our 2014 Minimum Grid election campaign, this year we opted again to work in collaboration. We partnered with The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, 8 80 Cities, Friends and Families for Safe Streets, and Walk Toronto to promote road safety as an non-partisan election issue through the #BuildTheVisionTO campaign.
Together, we developed a survey with 15 priorities for building streets where people of all ages and abilities can get around actively, safely, and sustainably. Our coalition pitched the survey to every mayoral and council candidate, and pushed hard for responses from each one. Before voting day, we went public with the results at a news conference from the press gallery at City Hall.
Within the #BuildTheVisionTO survey were three questions that focused specifically on cycling. Those questions formed the backbone of Cycle Toronto’s #BuildTheGrid municipal election campaign.
Main Street Outreach
Despite the curve ball from Queen’s Park, we pushed on with our #BuildTheGrid campaign, adapting to the new political reality. Our District Advocacy Summits and Activist Trainings drew hundreds of new faces into our volunteer pool, activating a new wave of energy in parts of the city beyond our traditional reach.
And while our #BuildTheVisionTO coalition was tracking down survey responses from council and mayoral candidates, our stellar team of #BuildTheGrid Campaign Coordinators was linking up with local volunteers to hit the streets in key parts of the city. Their goal was simple: promote the #BuildTheGrid campaign on the ground by asking local residents to pledge their support for the three cycling questions from the #BuildTheVisionTO survey. Our teams distributed thousands of #BuildTheGrid postcards to residents, encouraging everyone to ask their candidates the three questions themselves, given the chance.
The actions snowballed, reinforcing our network in downtown wards and solidifying a base of support in key areas where we had rarely worked before. We were on a roll.
Building a Healthier and More Active City
On October 22 2018, Torontonians went back to the polls, electing our mayor and councillors for the next four years. These 26 individuals are set to make critical and lasting decisions affecting the future of mobility in our city—including how we design our streets.
We worked hard with candidates across the political spectrum and are pleased to report that 14 elected councillors agreed to upwards of 80% of our election asks.
We're at an important point in Toronto's evolution. As before, every item that goes to City Council requires the support of at least 50% + 1 of all the councillors present. But the new political reality at City Hall now means that we need the ensure we have the support of at least 14 councillors going into a vote on any major cycling project. And this is exactly what we intend to do.
You Can Help #BuildTheGrid
Our new City Council meets for the first time in early December, and we anticipate big changes to how governance works at City Hall. In the meantime you can help hold our elected officials accountable by adding your voice to our call to #BuildTheGrid. If you haven’t already, sign the pledge and subscribe to our Action Alerts mailing list to stay connected about the next steps in the push for a grid of safe streets for all of Toronto.
We need you now more than ever. By joining or renewing your Cycle Toronto membership today, you can be a part of our vision for an outstanding cycling city. The more members we have, the greater our voice becomes.
We will be in touch with our members soon about the road ahead, but ultimately our goal remains the same. Together we will make Toronto a safer and more vibrant city for everyone!